Despite his reinvention as an elderly action man Liam Neeson has always been an actor with enough gravity around him to worry the sun. And with A Walk Among The Tombstones he finds himself in arguably his strongest film in some time. Because while the trailer and poster might focus on the limited action of the film, presumably to seduce the Taken fans, Tombstones is a much grittier little thriller that is more noirish than gung-ho.
Based on the novel by Lawrence Block A Walk Among The Tombstones follows former New York cop turned private investigator Matt Scuder (Neeson). Attending AA meetings Scuder meets the brother of drug trafficker Kenny (Dan Stevens) who asks him to look into the case of his murdered wife who was ransomed and then killed anyway. At first reluctant to take the case Scuder soon begins to realise this is not the first crime of this nature and must act quickly before the killers strike again.
Writer director Scott Frank is by now well versed in this brand of down and dirty Film Noir aesthetic. Having written the brilliant Out Of Sight for Steven Soderbergh as well as directed the under-seen but compelling The Lookout he knows how to keep you on tenterhooks for the duration of a mystery.
A Walk Among The Tombstones starts well. It’s dark and dank portrayal of Brooklyn conjures a bleak world in which drug dealers live in mansions and kids who like to read live on the street. The plot unfolds slowly, with purpose and intrigue, always keeping the smart-thinking Scuder front and centre. It’s not ashamed to pay lip service to its Noirish influences with Scuder’s new sidekick TJ (Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley) a keen follower of the likes of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.
But while the film creeps along, Scuder using his wiles rather than guns to solve most of the obstacles thrown his way, the film never quite grips in the manner you’d like. It has a sense of ‘70s slow-burn thriller about it, a William Friedkin sense of moral ambiguity, but the pay-off doesn’t pack enough punch. Instead, having raised the tension to intimidating levels, you’re left, like Scuder to most situations, with little else other than a nonchalant shrug of; oh well.
Stevens continues to prove that with this and The Guest the charming Brit from Downton is well and truly behind him. Now he’s dark, edgy and effortlessly creepy, his Kenny a twisted and tormented man quietly anxious for payback. Neeson meanwhile does what he does, striding through these mean streets with a power and conviction, a sheriff in this lawless land who criminals soon learn is not a man to be crossed. It’s proof that the real power of his recent shift in genre films is down to his screen presence rather than his ability to shoot a gun with ease.
A break from the Neeson norm of late A Walk Among The Tombstones is a dark brooding little thriller that grips for two thirds before releasing its strangle hold a little too easily.